OK, here comes my review. I thoroughly tested the Oppo this weekend. Bear in mind that this is my first experience with an upscaling player, so this review may be particularly useful to the uninitiated.
Until now, I have been using a very good 480i player with component out. I have a Samsung HLN437W DLP TV with 720p native resolution. The TV already has its own Faroudja-based upscaling. When properly calibrated, the picture from this combination was excellent, except for a few flaws introduced by the D-A and A-D conversion. For both players, I use an optical TOSLINK connection to a DD/DTS receiver.
My impressions of the Oppo were very mixed at first, but after calibrating the TV, AND having a high degree of faith in Oppo's promises to provide firmware upgrades to fix some of its issues, I think I'll be keeping it.
The fully digital upscaling of this player has distinct advantages:
1. The picture was definitely sharper and the level of detail was excellent.
2. It gave better results in flesh-tones, with less banding in graduated colors or grayscale ramps.
3. It eliminated the considerable amount of noise that a component connection introduces.
On the other side of the coin, fully digital upscaling also has some disadvantages:
1. Seeing more detail, allows you to see more flaws in the source material... badly recorded movies or heavily compressed data looks even more awful than before.
2. MACROBLOCKING. In short, I was HORRIFIED. But do read on
Before doing any calibration, I connected the player and threw in "Princess Diaries 2" for the family to watch. The macroblocking was absolutely unbearable. There was simply no way I could continue to watch that. The picture was so bad that the entire family went "EEEEEW we thought this player was supposed to be better!" It looked WAY worse! I was surprised to see the macroblocking, to some degree, in almost every single scene, on every single color or shade, from the brightest picture to the darkest. However, the most distracting occurrence was in the mid- to low-tones, particularly on background walls and floors. Absolutely HORRIBLY OBNOXIOUS.
Then I calibrated the TV. I left the Oppo at the default settings for brightness (0), contrast (0) and sharpness (low), and set the output to 720p on DVI. I used the AVIA DVD to set brightness, contrast, D65 grayscale, and color saturation. The most important tweak was to use the FULL range of the TV's contrast ratio to reduce banding and macroblocking.
After calibration, we watched the same material again. The macroblocking was still there, but it was reduced to bearable levels (seriously). It only occasionally became distracting. Then we watched "Toy Story", "Chicken Run", "Mask of Zorro (SB)" and "Shrek 2". The picture was spectacular, with no noticeable macroblocking at all!
So I started a crusade to find out what's happening. I read the macroblocking threads again with great interest. (Bob's explanations RULE!) Macroblocking is an artifact of heavy MPEG2 compression (often exaggerated by a bug in the Faroudja/Genesis processor). So I slipped the "Princess Diaries 2" DVD into the component player and, sure enough, looking closely, I could see the macroblocking all over the place. It was somewhat subdued, masked by the softer image and the dithering effect of the noise from the component connection, but it was there all right! I then tried a bunch of other DVD titles, like the often-mentioned "Monsters Inc." opening scene, next to the clock. Each time I saw macroblocking on the Oppo, I switched the disk to the component player and saw the macroblocking there too.
So I've come to accept that this is as good as it gets for the money. A well-recorded DVD looks simply stunning. Bad DVD transfers can look really bad all the imperfections are CLEARLY visible, including edge-enhancement and macroblocking. DVD's are very limited in the amount of information they can store, and with the advent of HDTV, we are trying to suck information out of them that isn't even there. But it makes me mad when the studios compress the heck out of a movie to fit both fullscreen and widescreen versions, plus dozens of languages, mindless "special features" and games on a single side. The result really SUCKS!
Back to the Oppo
I noticed 5 problems that others have mentioned, in order of severity (for me):
1. 4:3 material is expanded to 16:9, even when the player is set to output pillar-box.
2. The "shimmer", or flickering, of bright, sharp edges, particularly noticeable on 1 or 2-pixel white lines/squares on a darker background. It did not look like combing to me, and it did not occur on digitally-generated material, like Avia or "Shrek", only film-based material (which may have been shaking slightly, or perhaps it has to do with the cadence. I wondered if nearby macroblocking was causing it too).
3. Y/C delay was pretty bad. The AVIA red bars had dark transitions on their left sides and light transitions on their right sides. This was not a problem with my component player.
4. Pixel cropping - 2 pixels cropped at the top, 5 on the right. I used the TV's X/Y position controls to expose the entire image coming from the player.
5. DVI 720p output setting will not stick when the player turns off.
But I noticed another thing that concerned me:
6. The color decoder seemed all over the map. The best I could do was: Red: +5%, Green: -10%, Blue: -5%. However, I cannot eliminate my TV as the source of this error. Can anyone else look into this? Paul, you mentioned "Colors OK when adjusted". Adjusted where? On the TV or the player?
With these issues fixed, and DVD-Audio added, this will be a killer player for the money. I could not fully evaluate the deinterlacing capabilities of the player, so I look forward very much to Kris Deering's "Secrets" review.